Powerful Kern water agency ousts longtime legal counsel

March 19, 2024
by Lois Henry
The Kern County Water Agency headquarters in Bakersfield. Lois Henry / SJV Water
Lois Henry

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With only three months left on her contract, the longtime attorney for the powerful Kern County Water Agency was ousted Monday, March 18, during a special meeting.

Six of the agency’s seven directors voted in favor of terminating General Counsel Amelia Minaberrigarai’s contract after a short closed session. Director Laura Cattani was absent.

The contract was terminated as of March 23. It is set to expire June 30.

Amelia Minaberrigargai listens to a Kern County Water Agency meeting in this 2020 photo. Lois Henry / SJV Water

The agency did not respond to questions about whether the termination was for cause. Nor to questions about Minaberrigarai’s replacement.

It is also unclear why her contract was terminated with only three months before it expired. If she was fired without cause, the contract requires she receive a lump sum equal to her base pay, plus vacation that would have accrued for the remainder of the contract’s term. The agency did not provide documents showing her contract was extended.

Minaberrigarai was hired as the agency’s General Counsel in March 2005.

Her base annual salary in 2022 was $308,007, according to the most recent numbers on Transparent California. She also received $10,434 in “other pay” and $210,039.56 in benefits for a total compensation package of $528,480.56.

However, in June 2019, she also assumed general manager duties while the agency searched for a replacement for Curtis Creel, who retired. After it hired Tom McCarthy in March 2020, Minaberrigarai acted as co-general manager for six months while McCarthy learned about Kern’s water world.

For those duties, Minaberrigarai was paid significantly more. Transparent California shows that in 2020 she received an additional $154,124 in “other pay,” bumping her total package to $733,936.68. An addendum to her contract shows she also received an additional 200 hours of vacation for taking on the general manager duties over 2019-2020.

Managers for several Kern water districts also declined to comment on the termination.

About a dozen of Kern’s 22 water districts get supplies from the State Water Project, which imports water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta via the California Aqueduct along the west side of the valley. The agency administers that contract, so the water districts are considered “member units” of the agency.

The relationship isn’t always harmonious.

At a recent meeting of the Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District board, some directors vented frustration with the agency for “talking down” to people at its meetings, not listening or consulting with member units and giving too much weight to the general public as opposed to member units.

It’s unclear if that disenchantment extended to, or centered on, Minaberrigarai.

The agency’s general counsel is a key position as the agency is involved in just about every aspect of water in Kern County and statewide. Just some of its activities include:

  • It holds the second largest contract in the state to bring water to Kern County from the delta.
  • It owns rights to the Kern River.
  • Most exchanges, sales and movement of water into and out of the county have to be authorized by the agency
  • It owns the Cross Valley Canal, which moves water east and west across Kern County and also ties into the federal Friant-Kern Canal.
  • It is a part owner of the vast Kern Water Bank and operates its own separate bank along the river called the Pioneer Project.
  • It is one of three members of the Kern River Groundwater Sustainability Agency.
  • It oversees Improvement District 4, which imports and treats drinking water for large sections of northeast Bakersfield
  • It is a large player, both politically and financially, in the Department of Water Resources’ quest to build the Delta Conveyance Project, a tunnel to move Sacramento River water beneath the delta to farms and cities in the south.


SJV Water is an independent, nonprofit news site dedicated to covering water in the San Joaquin Valley. Get inside access to SJV Water by becoming a member.


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